Marriage Ceremonies, Part I: Essential Questions, Essential Components

Ok, so I was wrong. Apparently I am going to be conducting a wedding sometime soon. It’s not the sort of thing I typically do, but both the bride and groom are very dear friends, and I am so very excited. I am taking a break from my other writing to process my thoughts on this, in case they should become useful to me or someone else at a future time.

The gears have started to turn in my head about what constitutes a “good” wedding ceremony, and I realize that this is apt to vary wildly depending on the people getting married.

To me, a good rite of passage type ceremony narrates, symbolically and ritually, the transition that the person or people are undergoing. I found that I had the following questions, when it came to a wedding:

  1. What does this transition mean to you? How do you expect marriage to change your relationship?
  2. What will be the stipulated rules of the relationship, once you have taken your marriage vows?
  3. What are your individual religious beliefs? What deities, observances and customs are important to each of you separately?
  4. What will be the religious tenor of the household you will create together? Where is the point or spiritual or ritual overlap? What holidays might you celebrate, as a household? What is important to both of you?
  5. What are your aspirations for the union?

To my mind, in a society where the old establishment of marriage is being replaced by something flexible and evolving, but where that transition is not yet complete, vows are incredibly important. It is a ritual opportunity to clearly articulate expectations. I’m an even bigger fan of taking the terms of the relationship and weaving them into a piece of art so that they can be kept as a reminder of what they promised. Those binding agreements, to me, are the business end of a marriage ceremony, and the thing which really changes the relationship. Everything else is story, pageantry, tradition, and hoobity-ha for good luck with whatever the new household’s aspirations might be.

I do understand that not all marriage ceremonies work that way. I was married in an extremely traditional Jewish ceremony, and I made no vows whatever to my husband. Indeed, I didn’t even need to sign my marriage contract. A woman’s role in a marriage, at the time that this ceremony was created, was very clearly understood. Simply by not objecting to becoming married, she took on that role. Had I instead sworn specific vows to my husband in a less traditional ceremony, the terms of our relationship would not be defined by ancient gender roles, but instead by our own promises and statements of intent. Having bashed my head repeatedly into that role which I implicitly agreed to, I can say that any future marriage I participate in will certainly use extensive and explicit vows. Broken up, of course, as Hera suggested, with bell-ringing and consuming booze.

Since I’ve deemed the ceremony of vows as most essential, I’m going to write it for my next post, and then create several modular ritually bits for various types and kinds of marriage, to be included or not included as per the wishes of those getting married. These might include:

  • The renunciation of and re-dedication to household deities
  • Annulment of prior vows, re-assuming the obligations under the new circumstances
  • Consecration of the household altar (may have more applications than weddings)
  • An invitation to the ancestors (and/or dearly departed friends)
  • Customs for harmonious companionship
  • Customs for a prosperous household
  • Customs for fertility (or luck with adoption)
  • A ring ceremony
  • Anointing and consecrating the individuals to one another.

Of course, this is me we are talking about. All of these are gong to be crafted with a bit of an esoteric or mystical slant. So, obviously, ymmv.

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